AVON — Students at Cedar Elementary School here had a surprise visitor Friday afternoon.
It’s likely few, if any, knew him, but their parents, who were in attendance for awards marking the end of the first grading period, probably remembered him.
It was Chris Burke, or Corky from the TV series “Life Goes On,” which ran on ABC from 1989-93.
Burke, who has Down’s syndrome, is in town for Saturday’s Buddy Walk in Indianapolis. He performs with twin brothers Joe and John DeMasi, professional musicians from Long Island who met Burke when they were serving as music counselors at a recreational program for children with disabilities.
“We became really close friends,” John said.
They started performing together after the first year of “Life Goes On.” Once the show ended, they released their first CD. A record deal followed, after which they issued two more collections of songs tailored to youth with messages of inclusion, awareness, friendship, and love.
“Our message is about recognizing the value in everyone,” Joe said.
They’ve traveled the country ever since, spreading their message at schools, festivals, conferences, and more. Shelley Moyers, Cedar’s assistant principal, noted her school houses a severe needs classroom for special needs students. Some of their parents are involved in the Indiana chapter of the National Down’s Syndrome Society, which coordinates Buddy Walks all over the country. They helped bring Burke, who is the goodwill ambassador for the Down’s syndrome society, to Cedar.
“We were thankful for that,” Moyers said. “Our special needs students are highly involved in our school.”
She said Cedar just finished a program on bullying last week that emphasizes treating people different from you with respect.
“This just really fits nicely,” Moyers said of the performance by Burke and the DeMasies.
Burke only sings, but has always enjoyed music. He’s especially inspired by artists like Stevie Wonder, who has excelled at his craft despite being blind.
“It’s fun, something I grew up with,” Burke said of music. “Getting to do this with Joe and John is great.”
He said he also hopes to continue acting. He credits his role as Charles “Corky” Thacher on “Life Goes On” for changing attitudes toward people with disabilities through a wide audience.
“I feel bad for a lot of people with disabilities because they don’t have that chance,” Burke said. “I had that opportunity. It really conveyed that message of acceptance.”
When Burke, now 48, was born, most disabled children were still being institutionalized rather than mainstreamed into society. His parents were encouraged to do the same.
“We’ve come a long way in including kids with disabilities in our society,” John said. “That’s why it’s important for us to perform at elementary schools. You want to teach the kids from an early age. They’re going to come in contact with kids with disabilities in their everyday lives. They need to know that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean you don’t have ability.”
More information on Burke is available online at ChrisBurke.org.